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Laos Travel Guide

Overview
Laos has a laid back atmosphere with a lot of the country lacking modern development, which means it is less spoiled and more authentic that most other Southeast Asia nations. This country is entirely landlocked and rich in jungle and mountainous landscape. Plus, there are plenty of ancient Buddhist caves and remote tribal villages.

Even though a lot of the country is still rugged, the capital city of Vientiane is quite cosmopolitan and has a very popular café culture. The graceful colonial buildings, gleaming stupas and ancient ruins are complemented with pleasant palm-shaded streets.

The Laos travel and tourist industry has only been going since 1988 (western tourists were banned from entering the country before this time). Now, it is possible to explore the entire country with popular destinations including Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Vang Vieng for the backpackers.

Discover more about the culture, weather, geography, places to visit, shopping and nightlife with a Laos travel guide.

laos travel guide

Culture
Laos has a very authentic and traditional Asian lifestyle with a pace that is definitely easy-going and slow. It is a very strong Buddhist country and therefore tourists should respect the religious beliefs and dress accordingly. Women travelers’ shouldn’t touch monks and the local Laos people shouldn’t be touched on the head. Caution should be taken when talking about political issues because this has the potential to cause offense. All tourists should be respectably dressed and avoid revealing clothes. Long-sleeved and light shirts or sarongs are practical choices for women. Footwear should be removed in the event of entering a place of worship or other religious buildings.
    
The majority of the people in Laos are Buddhists (various forms are followed). Other religions in the country include Christianity, animism and Confucianism.

Weather & climate
The climate in Laos is generally tropical and hot with temperatures reaching up to 35° C during the rainy season that runs from May to October. The rainfall is a lot heavier in the highlands and north of the country with average rain at about 3,000 mm per year, while the capital city of Vientiane gets less rain at about 1,700 mm per year. The weather in Laos is much the same as Northern Vietnam. The driest and the most comfortable season is from November to April, although there are regions near the mountains that get particularly cold during this period, with the temperature falling as low as 5° C.

Best time to visit
The best time to experience Laos travel packages is during the dry season, which takes place from November to April. The weather at this time of the year is a lot more comfortable and makes it easier to travel across the country. Because it can be difficult to predict the amount of rainfall through the monsoon season, it is difficult to determine whether it is worth visiting the country during the rainy season. But if planning to stay in the capital or anywhere nearby, the rain shouldn’t be as much a problem as traveling to the northern districts.

laos travel packages

Geography
Laos is bordered by other countries on all sides and therefore landlocked. It has Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Chine to the north, Thailand to the west, and a 235 km Mekong River border with Burma. The majority of the country is mountainous with exception of the Mekong River plains that lie near the board with Thailand. The steep mountainous terrain stretches to the north apart from the Plain of Jars in Xiangkhoang Province and Vientiane. The mountain regions are sparsely populated with the only residents being the tribal minorities.

Laos visa
Nationals visiting Laos from Australia, Britain, Canada, other EU countries and the USA can easily apply for a 30-day visa on arriving in the country. This is possible at river or road border ports or crossings. Plus, it is just as easy to apply for a visa in advance by contacting the embassy before leaving home. The cost of a Laos visa is about $35-$50 and varies with the nationality and the method used to apply for the visa. For nationals that are not native to the mentioned countries, it is necessary to get in touch with the embassy to check the most up to date visa requirements.

Where to stay
The best five-star hotels in the country are based in Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiane. The facilities for other regions of the country are basic at best. There are hostels in some of the local villages but these aren’t really intended for western tourists. The availability of rooms and prices are greatly impacted by the season. For instance the high or peak season runs from October to January and hotels during the time are more likely to be booked solid. However, for the low season there is significantly less foot traffic and it is possible to book rooms without too much difficulty.

Bed and breakfast accommodation is available in the areas that get the most regular Laos travel. With the increase in tourism in the country, the low-cost guesthouses are starting to become a more common sight. But, the Laos guesthouses are extremely busy throughout the main festival period (December to February) so it benefits to book early during this time.

Camping is possible in designated areas, such the Phou Khao Khouay National Park and Nam Ha Forest Camp. Plus, in the Luang Prabang province, there are camping and rafting expeditions available to book.

laos tour packages

Shopping and nightlife
The best shopping in Laos is available in Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Handmade shirts, silver jewelry, pottery, wood carvings, silk and cotton fabrics are popular buys. Other great gift ideas include the hill tribe bags and traditional sarongs. While the main shops have a fixed price policy, there is still an option to barter when visiting the markets. To get access to the beautiful Laos textiles, a visit the Ban Nong Bouathong district is necessary. The Talat Sao market is a great visit for those interested in buying handicrafts, while the Pathana Boupha Antique House is great for old photos and beautiful silver work.

The nightlife in Laos is laid-back and quiet with laws in place requiring bars or nightclubs to shut by 23:30. However, there are still two nightclubs in a capital – Highwayman and Future Nightclub and both are located quite close to the airport making them very easy to get to. And they often stay open longer than they are permitted. Other options in Vientiane include the riverfront bars which offer cheap beer, cocktails and classic rock, and stay open until 23:00.

Food and Drink
The traditional cuisine in Laos is clearly influenced by Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai cooking with popular ingredients including Asian basil, galangal, ginger, herbs like lemongrass, fish sauce, soy and chili. Plus, there is a slight French influence in certain quarters with the roadside cafes selling baguette sandwiches. The basic foundation of the local dishes is sticky rice (khao niaw) and plenty of the meals include a side dish of pounded green papaya salad (tam mak hoong). Green tea is served free in many of the local restaurants. Some of the Laos specialties include Khao niaw, Laap, Khao jee, Sai oua, Khao poon and Lao lao.

Getting around
Lao Airlines offer plenty of internal flights to make it really easy to get around this country. The airport is based in Vientiane (Wattay International Airport) and includes regular flights to northern cities like Oudomxai, Huay Xai, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang, as well as the southern cities like Savannakhet and Pakse.

For road travel outside the capital it is advised to organize the mode of transport through your tour company. Car hire isn’t always advised because of the local driving standards which aren’t up to western levels with just a few rules in place few rules. But, for those planning a trip that goes off the beaten track, the most practical option is to hire a car and driver from a tourist agency or hotel. In recent years, many of the major roads have been changed from dirt to paved, including the road in Savannakhet that extends from the Thai to Vietnamese border. Taxis come in the form of the tuk-tuk which is easily flagging down on the roads. There is no set fair price so it's important to negotiate the price before starting the journey.

There are plenty of quiet cycling routes to explore with Laos travel in the country. Plus, cycling tours are a growing industry with many local tour guides offering this service with scenic tours that travel throughout the country. Other transport options include the buses and coaches. The coach offers the more VIP service and stops at the major tourist centers, while the buses stops more often and at a lot more destinations.

laos tour package

National Parks
Laos has 20 national parks that cover nearly 15% of the entire country. These protected sites are home to stunning and natural wonders, including karst limestone formations, diverse wildlife and tropical monsoon forest.

Bokeo Nature Reserve
The Bokeo Nature Reserve was established in 1997 when the black-cheeked gibbon was discovered, which was previously believed to be extinct.  Guests at the reserve can visit the Gibbon Experience which is an eco-tourism project. Guests get to stay in a purpose-made tree house and use zip lines to help travel through the thick forest. Other wildlife in the park includes buffalo, tigers, bears and elephants. Plus, with mountains that reach an altitude of nearly 5000-ft, this is a great destination for bird watching.

Phu Hin Bun National Park
The Phu Hin Bun National Park is home to the limestone cave Tham Kong, which is a type of karst cave that stretches nearly 4 miles and up to 300-ft in height. This geological wonder has rich emerald-colored pools of water which is believed by the locals to be sacred. Overnight accommodation is possible by staying in a private home and boat rides through the cave system are available.

Other popular parks or reserves noted in the Laos travel guide include Dong Amphan, Dong Hua Sao, Hin Namno, Nakai-Nam Theun and Phou Khao Khouay.

Things to see and do

Visit the temples in Luang Prabang
A visit to Luang Prabang in northern Laos is a UNESCO-listed site and an important religious and cultural center in this country. It is based on the banks of the Mekong River and features Buddhist temples with plenty of monks seen through the local city streets. Luang Prabang has a very slow and relaxed way of life and has plenty of places to stop and eat along the riverbank.

Try a cooking course in Vientiane
If you enjoyed the rich and flavorful cuisine in Laos, you can sign up for a cooking course in Luang Prabang or Vientiane. For a really authentic experience, the class even includes a trip to a local market to buy the fresh ingredients like spices, herbs, vegetables and meat. This all-inclusive class makes it that much easier to try to recreate the dishes when at home.

laos travel

Get up close to the local wildlife
The many unspoiled Laos jungles are rich in local wildlife like bear, rhinos, elephants, tigers and 100’s of species of birds. For a close up of the more secretive animals it is necessary to trek through the national parks. One great place to visit is the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which has the quite illusive black gibbon, while fun activities at the reserve include a rapid zip wire trip over the forest canopy below.

Travel Tips
Even though Laos is generally safe for tourists, it still helps to play safe and avoid travelling through the cities with expensive watches or jewelry. Leave these items at home or in the safe at the hotel.

The weather can vary drastically during the daytime (up to 35° C) to a much cooler temperature in the evening or early hours of the morning. A light jacket or thin layer fleece is great to travel with to stay comfortable at all times.

The cost to travel through Laos varies with the preferred level of comfort and style of travel. For the budget traveler, it is possible to get by on $18-$20 per day while the more deluxe Laos travel packages can reach $100 per day. There are accommodation and food choices to match all needs.

It isn’t necessary to take malaria medications if the travel itinerary is limited to the major cities like Luang Prabang or Vientiane. But if exploring the countryside it may be a practical choice. Also, basic precautions should be taken like wearing long-sleeved tops, full length pants, and apply a good mosquito repellent are regular intervals.

Elephants and other Wildlife
Elephants and other Wildlife

It cannot be denied that parts of Phou Khao Kouay have been heavily...

Life in Laos
Life in Laos

Laotian society is above all else characterized by semiindependent...

Common Courtesy of Laotians
Common Courtesy of Laotians

Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strongly...

Entering Laos
Entering Laos

All visitors entering Laos must possess valid passports. Visa can...

Do's and Don'ts in Laos
Do's and Don'ts in Laos

Welcome to Laos! We hope your visit is enjoyable and request that you...

MOUNTAIN BIKING
MOUNTAIN BIKING

With some of the best untamed scenery in Southeast Asia, many...

NBCAs and eco-tours
NBCAs and eco-tours

A handful of Lao companies organize eco-tours to wilderness areas...

Trekking
Trekking

The easiest and most popular adventure sport in Laos is trekking, with...

Watersports
Watersports

While most river-journey enthusiasts are satisfied with a slow boat...

Caves and rock climbing
Caves and rock climbing

With its great forests of limestone karst scenery receding into the...

Travel to Laos with children
Travel to Laos with children

Travelling through Laos with children can be both challenging and...

Learn how silk is made in Laos
Learn how silk is made in Laos

Laos's lifeline is the Mekong River, which runs the length of the...

Top places to stay in Laos
Top places to stay in Laos

Although Laos still much less developed than neighbouring Thailand, the...

What you should know as visiting Laos
What you should know as visiting Laos

Travel to Laos, you should remember some following notes:   

Best Time to Visit Laos
Best Time to Visit Laos

Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons - the...

Money and Cards in Laos
Money and Cards in Laos

The official national currency in Laos is the Lao kip (LAK). Kip notes...

Communication
Communication

You can make an international calls at Laos Telecom offices in most...

Famous Foods in Laos
Famous Foods in Laos

The staple food of Lao cuisine is sticky rice, which Lao people consume...

Tips for Dining in Laos
Tips for Dining in Laos

Laos cuisine is different from other cuisines in the Southeast...

Getting around Laos
Getting around Laos

Transportation would not be a problem during your Laos tours. Laos...

Getting to Laos, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City
Getting to Laos

Transportation would not be a problem during your Laos tours. Laos...

Tips for Shopping in Laos
Tips for Shopping in Laos

Travel to Laos, visitors also easily find these products in the...

What to Buy in Laos
What to Buy in Laos

Lao Silk One thing that is most worth buying in Laos is handmade Lao...

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Shopping in Chapasak

Traveling to Chapasal, don’t forget to visit the New Market-...

Shopping in Savannakhet
Shopping in Savannakhet

Savannakhet is ranked one of top destinations in Laos Classic...

Shopping in Luang Prabang
Shopping in Luang Prabang

Travel to Luang Prabang, you can find the same goods as...

Shopping in Vientiane
Shopping in Vientiane

Travel to Vientiane, if you want to have secondhand French, English old...

Sticky rice
Sticky rice

Sticky rice, which is considered as the essential food of the Lao...

Public transportation
Public transportation

Traveling to Laos, it is very for visitors to see that there...

Airplane
Airplane

In Laos, there are two national airplane companies and a private one...

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